Bulletin number 2: Jo Baddeley of Thomas Cook reports from the Gambia with the highs and the lows in a series of weekly reports.
Jo Baddeley, Thomas Cook’s Sustainable Destination Manager, gives a candid view… of how it works in a destination - tourists and all!
Notes from the field no 2
It is still Friday 25th as I'm typing this, the diesel generator is not just generating electricity but lots of smoke as well so we've switched everything off - the life of the laptop battery once again is our only way getting work done. It's a bank holiday, the electrician couldn't come so his brother is here instead as clearly, being a blood relative qualifies him as an electrician. We're very confident that we'll be back up and running safely very soon...... not!
Bryan, our manager, forgot that no electricity meant he couldn't print, having the computer still working makes you feel like the electricity is on. It's liquidation day, there are six reps in the office trying to pay their money in, everything is being done by hand and it's getting very hot ...who needs computers anyway!
I now have a new desk in Bryan's office, I'm going to put a green noticeboard up so that all the staff know what I'm doing in The Gambia and they can support it , they're going to be green in the middle by the time I leave. I'm hoping we can donate our paper and aluminium can waste to the recycled art projects - we shall see.
Well, here we are on Monday morning now, I left the office to go and meet Marc from the Kombo Beach Hotel to get some things organised for the TV crew, no point staying in the office with nothing working... but we're all back on track for a new week now.
I've had a fab little weekend, I went out to get all my shopping in for my little studio, went to see a new bar that's opened up that we want to use on bar crawl, it's right on the beach and is really lovely. They had a bit of an open night on Saturday with free drinks between 7-9pm, we arrived at 8pm so as to not look greedy but we didn't leave til midnight, it was a really good atmosphere and there was a good band on.
The other British man in the complex gets married today, despite being witness to the fact that his friend's marital bliss seems to have been short-lived! Heaven knows if they'll ever get back to the UK, I have no idea what the girls would do over there to be honest. It seems that they're going to stay put for a while longer though, I don't know if I'll even be around for the outcome at the end! It's very surreal but it takes all sorts to make a world and it would be very boring if we were all the same.
The other 2 people in the complex at the moment are brilliant, they've been coming to Gambia for 20 years and have got some fantastic stories to tell, we had a right laugh round the pool yesterday. It's a lovely little community in there and feels very like home.
Off to go and pick up the visa for Gill from greentravelguides.tv, the GTB have it organised it ... hopefully it will all be OK when I get to the airport to get them through. I'm really looking forward to spending a week with the film crew, I think I'll learn a lot but I also want them to really experience and enjoy The Gambia.....to be honest I have no doubt that they will!
Next bulletin next week...
As part of my six week stint in the Gambia this winter I've been working together with The Travel Foundation, Sandele Eco-Lodge and Rupert & Lynne (our craft experts) to promote a brand of jewellery, crafts and textiles that will be recognised by customers for its committment to natural products and to a fair working ethic for the producers involved.
During the last 12 months everyone has been working very hard here in the destination to develop new innovative designs and products that will meet all customer's needs and pockets. The 8th December was agreed as the launch date of the 'Guaranteed Gambian' products and we were generously offered promotional space at the beautiful Gaya Art Cafe. A range of buyers and other interested parties were invited to the event, resulting in some fabulous feedback and interest for orders. Following the launch, myself and Rupert met with Anna from Top Shop who has shops at three popular hotels, she has become our first Guaranteed Gambian customer and is placing orders for all of our items within the catalogue.
For many of the producers of our crafts, this is going to be the first time that they've ever had any kind of real employment and opportunity to make a decent living from tourism.
The respect that will come from having this opportunity is something that I can't even put a value on for them...instead of bumstering their wares on the streets they now have 3 confirmed outlets for their work. With next year's work focussing on marketing and building brand awareness of Guaranteed Gambian I know that the producers will really feel very proud to be part of it and to say that their work is sold under this label.
It guarantees a fair wage for their products and the time that they have put into making them. The story boards of the producers will help to tell the story to the customer and bring life to the brand as well as awareness raising of sustainability as a whole. We'll be able to fully report on stats this time next year to demonstrate the difference this has made to the income of the producers.
I remember when I met a marabou (fortune teller) here the first time I came to do H&S 5 years ago, he told me that I would always come back to the Gambia and that I would bring wealth to people of the destination, I never believed a word of it, as far as I was concerned I was doing a one off trip there and never knew that I'd even come back. As soon as we got the Top Shop agreement it struck me that this could be exactly what he was referring to all that time ago! Scary that someone can know these things so far ahead of time
Of everything that I've done so far in this job, this is probably the highlight and the most amazing achievement yet. There's a lot of special people working on this project here and it's such priviledge to be part of it. I just wanted to share the good news!
Jo Baddeley is the Sustainable Destinations Manager at Thomas Cook UK and Ireland and has been in the role for almost four years. She recently graduated from Leeds University with a Masters Degree in Responsible Tourism and was highly commended for her personal contribution to sustainability at World Travel Market in 2010.
Jo is passionate about bringing sustainability to life in destinations for customers, suppliers, local people and Thomas Cook's own employees. Making it part of an improved customer experience is the best way to get people involved. Some of Jo's favourite overseas initiatives have come about as a response to the Travel Foundation's 'Make Holidays Greener' week and include ongoing children's activities and promotion of new local products and events.
The opportunity to travel, to spend time with people and to develop an understanding of the flavour of different destinations are the highlights of the job. Jo hopes to continue to encourage more and more people to become involved with sustainability and to enjoy the many benefits it brings.